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  God is in the Neurons       From: I Power
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Chapter 1 (Full)

Chapter 1 (Full - 21:03)

'God is in The Neurons' is the first chapter of the 'Athene's Theory of Everything' documentary and covers the research that was done by Chiren Boumaaza, (aka 'Athene',) in the year 2010 — which was why he disappeared from his usual viral YouTube series for most of that year. Known mainly for his record-setting World of Warcraft and online poker stunts and for the extravagance he portrays in his videos, Boumaaza has been seen as a genius by some, a 'troll' by others, but as an incredibly capable gamer and entertainer by most.

Developments in neuroscience and sociology from the past decades have shed light on many aspects of human psychology that are only now beginning to be discussed in the fields of 'self-help' and self-development. While there is a lot of literature on the subject from authors that range from popular lifecoaches such as Tony Robbins to spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Chiren saw a huge lack in material that takes a purely scientific approach. 'God is in The Neurons' makes important correlations about mirror neurons, neuroplasticity, memory, social dynamics, evolution, altruism and identity.

(Only Chapter 1 of 2 is featured here. Go to I Power for full video.)


Chapter 1 - Introduction

The human brain is a network of approximately one hundred billion neurons. Different experiences create different neural connections which bring about different emotions. And depending on which neurons get stimulated, certain connections become stronger and more efficient, while others may become weaker. This is what's called neuroplasticity. Someone who trains to be a musician will create stronger neural connections that link the two hemispheres of the brain in order to be musically creative. Virtually any sort of talent or skill can be created through training. [1]

Rüdiger Gamm, who was a self-admitted "hopeless student", used to fail at basic maths. He went on to train his abilities and became a famous "human calculator", capable of performing extremely complex mathematics. Rationality and emotional resilience work the same way. These are neural connections that can be strengthened.

Whatever you are doing at any time, you are physically modifying your brain to become better at it. Since this is such a foundational mechanism of the brain, being self-aware can greatly enrich our life experience.

[1] Experiments show that, not only action, but also imagination significantly affects our neural connections. A musician can physically alter the brain's structure to become more skilled at, for example, playing the piano, simply by thinking about it.

Part 1: Social Neuroscience

Chapter 1 - Part 1

Specific neurons and neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, trigger a defensive state when we feel that our thoughts have to be protected from the influence of others. If we are then confronted with differences in opinion, the chemicals that are released in the brain are the same ones that try to ensure our survival in dangerous situations. In this defensive state, the more primitive part of the brain interferes with rational thinking and the limbic system can knock out most of our working memory, physically causing narrowmindedness. [2] We see this in the politics of fear, in the strategy of poker players, or simply when someone is stubborn in a discussion. No matter how valuable an idea is, the brain has trouble processing it when it is in such a state. [3]

On a neural level, it reacts as if we're being threatened, even if this threat comes from harmless opinions or facts that we may otherwise find helpful and could rationally agree with. [4]

But when we express ourselves and our views are appreciated, these "defense chemicals" decrease in the brain and dopamine neurotransmission activates the reward neurons, making us feel empowered and increasing our self-esteem. Our beliefs have a profound impact on our body chemistry, this is why placebos are so effective.

Self-esteem or self-belief is closely linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin. When the lack of it takes on severe proportions, it often leads to depression, self-destructive behaviour or even suicide. [5] Social validation increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and allows us to let go emotional fixations and become self-aware more easily.

A very wide range of neurological studies confirm the importance of a "seeking to understand" attitude in social interaction. Social validation is not only a very basic psychological need, but it is often also required in order to reach a state of open-mindedness towards new ideas. Paradoxically, interactions where the focus is on trying to convince the other side of a different point of view tend to be counter-productive if this person's own views are not first emphatically understood and appreciated. [6]

[2] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (1999), 87

[3] Recent behavioural research confirms that, in most cases, shaking someone's belief system tends to turn them into advocates or often motivates them to seek out more supporters and convince others. While the approach of seeking to understand, without judgment, tends to inspire open-mindedness and lowers the levels of resistance and emotional attachment to personal beliefs.

[4] People who experience a lot of stress can find themselves almost constantly in this defensive mindset, since stress can damage the limbic system and drastically increase emotional irritability.

[5] Social invalidation is the primary cause of this:

[6] Even the mere act of giving a personal opinion to someone who happens to be in an even mildly protective state at that time tends to motivate thought processes where the memory of this expression is stored with negative emotions attached to it, resulting in backward rationalizations that will later justify how and why she or he disagrees with you. Stating a point of view to someone who is not in an optimally receptive state, for it can actually set this person on a path to crusade against certain ideas that she or he did not necessarily care about or have a defined view on before. Such rationalizations quickly enter one's belief system, at which point the person will be impulsive over these new ideas.

Part 2: Mirror Neurons & Consciousness

Chapter 1 - Part 2

Social psychology often looks at the basic human need to fit in and calls this the "normative social influence". When we grow up, our moral and ethical compass is almost entirely forged by our environment, so our actions are often the result of the validation we get from society. But new developments in neuroscience are giving us a better understanding of culture and identity.

Recent neurological research has confirmed the existence of empathetic mirror neurons. [7] When we experience an emotion or perform an action, specific neurons fire. But when we observe someone else performing this action or when we imagine it, many of the same neurons will fire again, as if we were performing the action ourselves. These empathy neurons connect us to other people, allowing us to feel what others feel. And since these neurons respond to our imagination, we can experience emotional feedback from them as if it came from someone else. This system is what allows us to self-reflect.

We are constantly mirroring people around us, subconsciously looking for things that reflect our own state and personality to protect our emotional balance. [8] This is why our moods are so often affected by the people around us and why we can be so immersed in music, games or movies that resonate with us as if we're socially mirroring the artists or characters.

Our understanding of others is the result of neurally linking our perception of people's actions to memory imprints of our own past experiences. This process gives us an intuitive impression but also makes us unaware of how complex people are. An increase in oxytocin makes us more affectionate, loyal and empathic. Since men tend to have lower levels of oxytocin than women, both often think in fundamentally different ways, making it a counter-intuitive task to truly understand one another.

"The mirror neuron does not know the difference between it and others." [9] … and is the reason why we are so dependent of social validation as well as why we want to fit in. We are in a constant duality between how we see ourselves and how others see us. This can result in confusion in terms of identity and self-esteem; and brain scans show that we experience these negative emotions even before we are aware of them.

But when we are self-aware, we can alter misplaced emotions because we control the thoughts that cause them. This is a neurochemical consequence of how memories become labile when retrieved and how they are restored through protein synthesis. Self-observing profoundly changes the way our brain works. It activates the self-regulating neo-cotical regions, which give us an incredible amount of control over our feelings. Every time we do this, our rationality and emotional resilience are strengthened.

After consolidation, a process that requires gene expression and protein synthesis, memories are stable and highly resistant to disruption by amnestic influences. Recently, consolidated memory has been shown to become labile again after retrieved and to require a phase of reconsolidation to be preserved. [10]

When we're not being self-aware, most of our thoughts and actions are impulsive and the idea that we are randomly reacting and not making conscious choices is instinctively frustrating. The brain resolves this by creating explanations for our behaviour and physically rewriting it into our memories through memory reconsolidation, making us believe that we were in control of our actions. This is also called backward rationalization, and it can leave most of our negative emotions unresolved and ready to be triggered at any time. They become a constant fuel to our confusion as our brain will keep trying to justify why we behaved irrationally.

All this complex and almost schizophrenic subconscious behaviour is the result of a vastly parallel distributed system in our brain. There is no specific center of consciousness, the appearance of a unity is, in fact, each of these separate circuits being enabled and being expressed at one particular moment in time. [11]

Our experiences are constantly changing our neural connections, physically altering the parallel system that is our consciousness. Direct modifications to this can have surreal consequences that bring into question what and where consciousness really is.

If your left cerebral hemisphere were to be disconnected from the right, as is the case in split-brain patients, you would normally still be able to talk and think from the left hemisphere, while your right hemisphere would have very limited cognitive capacities. Your left brain will not miss the right part, even though this profoundly changes your perception. One consequence of this is that you can no longer describe the right half of someone's face. But you'll never mention it, you'll never see it as a problem or even realize that something has changed. [12] Since this affects more than just your perception of the real world and also applies to your mental images, it is not just a sensory problem, but a fundamental change in your consciousness. [13]

[7] University of California, April 2010

[8] Originally these mirror neurons emerged in apes to mirror the actions of others. In humans it evolved to help us understand what others think and feel (theory of mind) and only very recently in our evolution did we start to use it for introspection. Our self-image is created by our ability to understand others.

[9] Vilayanur S. Ramachandran

[10] György Kemenes, Ildikó Kemenes, Maximilian Michel, Andrea Papp and Uli Müller. The Journal of Neuroscience, 7 June 2006. Phase-Dependent Molecular Requirements for Memory Reconsolidation: Differential Roles for Protein Synthesis and Protein Kinase A Activity

[11] Joseph E. LeDoux

[12] LeDoux, Wilson, and Gazzaniga. 1977

[13] Vilayanur S. Ramachandran

Part 3: God Is In The Neurons

Chapter 1 - Part 3

Each neuron has a voltage which can change when ions flow in or out of the cell. Once a neuron's voltage has reached a certain level, it will fire an electrical signal to other cells, which will repeat the process. When many neurons fire at the same time, we can measure these changes in the form of a wave. Brainwaves underpin almost everything going on in our minds, including memory, attention and even intelligence. As they oscillate at different frequencies, they get classified in bands, such as: delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. Each are associated with different tasks. Brainwaves allow braincells to tune in to the frequency corresponding to their particular task, while ignoring irrelevant signals, similar to how a radio homes in on different waves to pick up radio stations.

The transfer of information between neurons becomes optimal when their activity is synchronized. [14] This is the same reason why we experience cognitive dissonance, the frustration caused by simultaneously holding two contradictory ideas. Will is merely the drive to reduce dissonance between each of our active neural circuits. Evolution can be seen as the same process, where nature tries to adapt or 'resonate' with its environment. By doing so, it evolved to a point where it became self-aware and began to ponder its own existence. When a person faces the paradox of wanting purpose while thinking that human existence is meaningless, cognitive dissonance occurs. Throughout history, this has led many to reach for spiritual and religious guidance, challenging science, as it failed to give answers to existential questions, such as: "Why or what am I?"

[14] Vilayanur S. Ramachandran

Part 4: I Am Athene

Chapter 1 - Part 4

The left cerebral hemisphere is largely responsible for creating a coherent belief system, in order to maintain a sense of continuity towards our lives. New experiences get folded into the pre-existing belief system. When they don't fit, they are simply denied. [15]

This can create a profound confusion when mirroring others. When the neural connections that physically define our belief system are not strongly developed or active, then our consciousness, the unity of all the separate active circuits at that moment, may consist mainly of activity related to our mirror neurons. Just as when we experience hunger, our consciousness consists mostly of other neural interaction for consuming food.

This is not the result of some core 'self' giving commands to different cerebral areas. All the different parts of the brain become active and inactive, interacting without a core.

Just as the pixels on a screen can express themselves as a recognizable image when in unity, the convergence of neural interaction expresses itself as consciousness. At every moment, we are, in fact, a different image. A different entity when mirroring, when hungry, when reading this document. Every second, we become different persons as we go through different states.

When we use our mirror neurons to look at ourselves, we may construct the idea of identity. But if we do this with our scientific understandings, we see something completely different: the neural synergies that produce our oscillating consciousness go far beyond our own neurons. We are equally the result of cerebral hemispheres interacting electrochemically, as we are of the senses connecting our neurons to other neurons in our environment. Nothing is external.

Since our behaviour is neurally mirrored by the people around us, we are continuously rewiring both our own brains and those of others with each action that is socially observed. This is one of many aspects that underlines our superorganismal nature and emphasizes the effectiveness of 'being the change you want to see in others' or 'self-development activism'.

This is not a hypothetical philosophy, it is the basic property of mirror neurons, which allow us to understand ourselves through others. Seeing this neural activity as your own, while excluding the environment, would be a misconception.

Our superorganismal features are also reflected in evolution, where our survival as primates relied on our collective abilities. [16] Over time, the neocortical regions evolved to permit the modulation of primitive instincts and the overriding of hedonistic impulses for the benefit of the group. Our selfish genes have come to promote reciprocal social behaviours in superorganismal structures, effectively discarding 'survival of the fittest'. Research in the field of memetics shows that our cultural ideas and practices, or memes, are achieving evolutionary change at a much faster rate than our genes have ever done in the past. The most inspiring memes often live on and define our evolution. But unlike genes, memes are directly influenced by our intellectual awareness.

The brain's neural activity resonates most coherently when there is no dissonance between these advanced new cerebral regions and the older, more primitive, ones. What we traditionally call 'selfish tendencies' is only a narrow interpretation of what self-serving behaviour entails, where as in human characteristics are perceived through the flawed model of identity, instead of through a scientific view on what we are: a momentary expression of an everchanging unity, with no center.

The psychological consequences of this as an objective belief system allow self-awareness without attachment to the imagined self, causing dramatic increases in mental clarity, social conscience, self-regulation and what's often described as 'being in the moment'.

[15] Ramachandran, V.S. 1995. University of California

[16] Cacioppo, J. and Martzke, J.S. 1987

Part 5: A Global Network of Neurochemical Reactions

Chapter 1 - Part 5

The common cultural belief has mostly been that we need a narrative, a diachronic view on our life, to establish moral values. But with our current understandings of the empathic and social nature of the brain, we now that a purely scientific view, with no attachment to our identity or 'story', yields a far more accurate, meaningful and ethical paradigm that our anecdotal values.

This is logical, since our traditional tendency to define ourselves as imaginary individualistic constants neurally wires and designs the brain towards dysfunctional cognitive processes. Common tendencies are as follows:

  • Not knowing who you are.
  • Low self-esteem or self-worth.
  • A 'survival of the fittest' mentality.
  • Past and future fixations.
  • Outcome dependency, not result-oriented.
  • Existential confusion.
  • Taking things for granted and only being satisfied with more. Example: If you were to receive a phone call from someone notifying you that your house burned down and your family is dead, it would be a very heavy emotional punch. If you were to then go home and find that it happened to someone else down the road instead and you were notified in error, you would feel euphoric and experience the value of your family, even though practically nothing has changed.
  • Labeling emotions, yourself, people, cultures, nations, et cetera as 'right' and 'wrong', instead of seeing things for what they are.
  • Misinterpreting your drive to evolve and contribute by focusing on competing with others.
  • Materialistic fixations.
  • Limiting your potential by justifying your flaws as you believe that's 'who you are'. As a result of neuroplasticity, this then creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Expecting from yourself to live in accordance with an imaginary self or identity and being emotionally attached to it, comparing your story with others.
  • Thinking in absolute truths based on your own intentions and intellect.
  • Being judgmental as you don't seek first to understand the situation.
  • Strengthening your identity by focusing on the flaws of others; much like gossip and slander.
  • Social anxiety, not being yourself our of fear of judgment.
  • Most types of stress, which can damage the limbic system and increase emotional irritability.
  • Acting against your own intentions for the validation of others.
  • Seeking escape from these dysfunctional processes by suppressing them, which wires the brain to be passive as it increases the need for distraction or entertainment.
  • Misinterpreting happiness as that what gives meaning, while it's actually a side-effect of doing what creates meaning to you. This loophole can lead to unhappiness and even depression as recklessly aiming for happiness can fundamentally undermine it. Example: One of the most successful therapies for depression and even schizophrenia has been to let patients assume a role in which they have to help others. Because it causes their neural activity to move away from what's keeping negative fixations alive and go towards the mesolimbic reward pathway, which normally lights up when we experience pleasure, such as when eating great foods or having sex. In addition, functional M.R.I. scans show that the brain is sensitive to whether or not we're being purely selfish or contributing to the lives of others. As long as we feel that what we're doing is right, happiness and fulfillment are almost automatic.
  • Intuitively interpreting this documentary as an inspiring affirmation for what causes all these cognitive complications: the belief system in which your 'self' is directed by an imaginary self or identity.

Practical labeling underpins all forms of interactions in our daily lives. But by psychologically labeling the self as internal and the environment as external, we constrain our own neurochemical processes and experience a deluded disconnection.

Growth and its evolutionary side-effects, such as happiness and fulfillment, are stimulated when we are not being labeled in our interactions. We may have many different views and disagree one another in practical terms, but interactions that nevertheless accept us for who we are, without judgment, are neuropsychological catalysts that wire the human brain to acknowledge others and accept rationally verifiable belief systems without dissonance.

Stimulating this type of neural activity and interaction alleviates the need for distraction or entertainment and creates cycles of constructive behaviour in our environment. Sociologists have established that phenomena such as obesity and smoking, emotions and ideas, spread and ripple through society in much the same way that electric signals of neurons are transferred when their activity is synchronized.


We are a global network of neurochemical reactions. And the self-amplifying cycle of acceptance and acknowledgment, sustained by the daily choices in our interactions, is the chain-reaction that will ultimately define our collective ability to overcome imagined differences and look at life in the grand scheme of things.

Related Works

Part 4 - Phantoms In The Brain (Episode 1)

Part 5 - Phantoms In The Brain (Episode 1)

Where is consciousness?

Joseph M. Carver, Ph. D. - Norepinephrine: From Arousal to Panic

Dharol Tankersley, C Jill Stowe, and Scott A Huettel - Brain Scan Predicts Difference Between Altruistic And Selfish People

New Scientist - Empathetic mirror neurons found in humans at last

Dr. Christopher Reist - Psychiatry And The Brain

John McManamy - Dopamine - Serotonin's Secret Weapon

The Neuroscience of Emotions

How Our Brains Make Memories

Alpha, beta, gamma - The language of brainwaves - life - 12 July 2010 - New Scientist

TSN: Take the Neuron Express for a brief tour of consciousness

LeDouxLAB, Web-Audio Fearful Brains

Joseph LeDoux, Can Memories Be Erased

Zócalo Public Square :: Full Video

When in doubt, shout -- why shaking someone's beliefs turns them into stronger advocates | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

The Brain: How The Brain Rewires Itself - TIME,9171,1580438,00.html